How a ban on replacement workers could improve health and safety

Bill C-58 would apply to all federally regulated workplaces in Canada

How a ban on replacement workers could improve health and safety

In early November, the federal government introduced Bill C-58, a piece of legislation aimed at prohibiting the practice of employers bringing in replacement workers during contract disputes. This bill has far-reaching implications for labour relations and, notably, for the health and safety of workers in federally regulated industries.

Bill C-58 represents the culmination of decades of efforts by the Canadian labor movement and fulfills a key demand in the Liberal-NDP confidence and supply agreement. The legislation would impact several sectors such as banking, telecommunications, air and rail transportation, trucking, and more. It is estimated that over one million employees work in federally regulated industries, with approximately one-third of them being unionized.

The ban on replacement workers: A turning point for labour relations

"This bill is very important for unions and for workers," says Adam King, assistant professor in the labour studies program at the University of Manitoba. "It potentially will make labour relations less contentious because it removes that threat of replacement workers."

King, who teaches a course on occupational health and safety, believes the ban will help reduce tensions during labour disputes, fostering a more collaborative approach to resolving differences at the bargaining table.

From a health and safety perspective, this reduction in tension is crucial. King explains, "by removing the threat of replacement workers, it compels employers to take bargaining more seriously and can reduce the likelihood of tensions flaring up, which can sometimes lead to violence or other forms of tension on picket lines."

Health and safety risks of replacement workers

King also highlights the workplace risks associated with the use of replacement workers. He notes that replacement workers may not always be adequately trained in health and safety practices, potentially posing risks to themselves and their colleagues.

"Sometimes replacement workers are moved within a firm or within an industry, so you may be bringing people in who have the expertise," says King. "But in many cases, you don't. There are definitely health and safety risks with the employment of replacement workers."

King says by banning the use of replacement workers, Bill C-58 would help mitigate these risks, creating a safer working environment for all parties involved.

Support and next steps

Bill C-58 enjoys broad support from the NDP, the Liberal Party, and the Bloc Québécois. The NDP, in particular, has been a strong advocate for anti-scab legislation over the years. However, the Conservative Party has expressed the need for further study of the bill, potentially due to political considerations.

A group of more than 70 labour experts, including King, have signed an open letter supporting the legislation. But they oppose the timeline.

While the bill is likely to pass, it will come into effect only 18 months after receiving royal assent. Critics argue this extended timeline is unnecessary given the size of the federally regulated private sector workforce.

Bill C-58 signifies a significant shift in labour relations and worker safety in federally regulated industries. By banning the use of replacement workers during strikes or lockouts, the bill aims to create a more collaborative and safer work environment for employees. As health and safety professionals, it is crucial to stay informed about these changes and their potential impacts on your workplace.